Festival of Chhath Puja

Chhath is an ancient Vedic festival historically native to the Indian subcontinent. It is a major festival mostly celebrated in the Indian states of Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and the Madhesh region of Nepal. The Chhath Puja is dedicated to the Lord Surya (Sun) and, Shashthi Devi, also known as ‘Chhathi Maiya’ to thank for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and to request granting of certain wishes. As per scriptures, Shashthi Devi (also been known as ManasPutri of Lord Brahma ji), protects the offspring and provides longevity to them.

Six days after Diwali, Chhath Puja is observed. This festival is observed to pay respect to the Sun-God who is the chief source of energy, sustenance, and power upon the earth. Consorts of the Sun-God, Usha, and Pratyusha, the goddesses of Dawn and Dusk, who are responsible for showering the first and last rays of the Sun are also worshipped with him. It is held for a period of four days, starting from the sixth day in the month of Kartikeya of the Indian calendar (mid-October to mid-November), from which the festival gets its name, ‘Chhath’, meaning six in the Nepali, Bhojpuri, and Maithili dialects.

Since the Early Vedic Period, the Chhath Puja finds an honourable mention in the religious texts. Prior to this ritual, fasting was usually observed. Mantras and hymns were chanted which claimed gratitude to the Sun-God, and seek his blessings. In today’s date, the significance and necessity of the Chhath Puja are experienced by both the environment and self. It cleanses both the mind and body by incorporating freshness of spirit and infusing energy within. Idolatry is absent and the values of unity, equality, and brotherhood are infused in the devotees. Devotees, irrespective of their caste are welcomed along the banks of the rivers where offerings are made to the Sun-God. This festival also echoes the reminiscence of the need to worship nature and natural forces.

Depending on the month in which a devotee would observe the Chhath Puja, there are two types of Chhath Puja – Chaitra Chhath and Kartik Chhath. Just as their name suggests, the Chaitra Chhath is celebrated in the month of Chaitra, while the Kartik Chhath, the more popular one is observed in the month of Kartik of the Indian calendar.

Chhath Puja Image

Chhath Puja 2021 Schedule
◙ 1st Day: Nahay Khay – Monday, 08 November
◙ 2nd Day: Lohanda and Kharna – Tuesday, 09 November
◙ 3rd Day: Sandhya Arghya – Wednesday, 10 November
◙ 4th Day: Usha Arghya – Thursday, 11 November

Chhath Puja Rituals

Mostly the devotees who perform the Chhath Puja are women. This four-day festival includes the different rituals of the Nyay-Khay, Lohanda and Kharna, Sandhya Arghya, and Bihaniya Arghya. Offerings are made near water sources when the first and last rays of the Sun strike the earth. This is usually followed by singing traditional songs, commemorating the valour and glory of the Sun-God.

The ritual of Nyay-Khay is observed on the first day of the festival. At sunrise, devotees bathe themselves in the holy water of the Ganges. The Ganga Jal is sprinkled in the entire house, followed by preparing Prasad for the Sun-God. Devotees should eat only one meal throughout the day.

Rituals of Lohanda and Kharna, or Argasan is observed on the second day of the festival. On this day, fasting is observed for the entire day, which is broken only after offerings are made to the Sun-God in the evening. This is followed by rigorous fasting of 36 hours.

On the third day of the festival, Sandhya Arghya is observed. The entire day prevails on fasting without food and water. The entire family comes together to prepare bamboo baskets, on which seasonal fruits and traditional delicacies like thakua, saanch are carried, and kept under the sun, along the river banks. The devotee takes a dip, making offerings or ‘arghya’ to the setting Sun. In the evening, Kosi is observed as diyas are lighted and placed with a bundle of five sticks, representing the respect imparted to the five realms of nature.

The last and fourth day observes the ritual of Usha Arghya or Bihaniya Arghya, where the devotees gather along the river banks before sunrise and carry back the basket of offerings. The devotee takes a dip in the water, offering prayers to the Sun-God and Usha. Soil is also worshipped as the devotees prepare to traverse back to their homes. This marks the respect and gratitude of Mother Earth for providing them food.

Chhath Puja celebrations in India and across the Globe

An unparallel charm of gaiety and festivity shrouds the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. These states attract large sections of devotees and tourists every year to witness the grand festivity of the Chhath Puja. Ponds, rivers, and lakes are highly decorated, so are the streets. People wear their best clothes and gather along the banks to witness the rituals.

Mungar, in Bihar, attaches mythological importance as it is believed that Maa Sita had performed Chhath Puja at this site. The Kastaharni Ghat witnesses lakhs of devotees taking dips and worshipping the Sun-God. The Ranchi Lake is the most revered spot for the Chhath Puja in Jharkhand. Other important sites include ghats of Bagbera, Bokaro’s seven ghats of the Ganges, etc. In Delhi, as many as 500 ghats become the sites for offering prayers, which clearly amplifies the devotion and popularity of the festival. Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Rajasthan too claim the spirituality of the Chhath Puja.

The whole nation of Nepal wears a festive look as the Chhath Puja or Chhath Parav approaches. But, mostly the Madhesh region and the north-eastern city of Janakpur attract special attention across the nation. Devotees throng in the city to worship at the famous Janaki Temple, followed by taking dips in nearby water bodies.

Besides, India and Nepal, Chhath Puja celebrations are experienced globally by Hindus living all across the world. Hindu settlements in the Mauritius, Fiji, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, etc. celebrate the Chhath Puja with must gaiety and piousness. Thousands of Indian-Americans observe the festival of Chhath Puja in a foreign land. The Potomac River, in the Virginia suburb of Washington DC, experiences the maximum hurl of the devotees. Few lakes of New Jersey are also thronged by a considerable number of devotees. Owing to the Governmental impositions several devotees also make makeshift community pools to observe the festival.

Legends associated with Chhath Puja:

The earliest legend of the Chhath Puja is traced from the Mahabharata. As the hardships in the exile were could not be endured, Drapaudi cried in misery as she would be unable to prepare food for so many monks. On seeing this, Yudhisthara, the oldest of the Pandavas went to Dhoumya, in hopes of a solution. Dhoumya asked the Pandavas to worship the Sun-God since both food and sustenance lay under his shelter and abundance. As the Pandavas worshipped the Sun-God with full spirit and devotion, they were granted a magical copper vessel that could provide four types of delicacies in such great quantity that it would last till Drapaudi would have eaten her meal.

Another version of the legend narrates the story of King Priyabrat, and Malini, his wife, who begot their child by worshipping the Chhathi Maiya with pure minds. Initially, the childless couple sought Yagya, guided by Maharishi Kashyap, and the queen became pregnant due to the effects of the Yagya. But after nine months, a dead child was delivered. The disheartened couple lost all their hopes, until Manas Kanya, Devsena appeared, asking the couple to worship her with full devotion for six days. After nine months the couple had a beautiful baby boy. Since then, devotees, with their full devotion made offerings to the Shashthi (Chhathi) Maiya, for begetting a healthy child, and expecting family welfare.

Contributed by Promila G.
Edited and Published by Team MandirOnline